Notre Dame defense practice notes 3-26

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Asmar Bilal became a constant in the middle of Notre Dame’s first team defense at Tuesday’s spring practice.

The graduate student manned the mike linebacker position for the majority of the practice. He was joined by a rotating cast of buck linebackers. Bilal even remained on the field in Notre Dame’s nickel package.

That left the 6-foot-2, 227-pound Bilal with plenty of opportunities to make plays or be exposed. He did more of the former than the latter.

Bilal’s biggest play came when Notre Dame’s offense attempted a fourth-and-goal play in a scrimmage setting. Bilal sprang free on a blitz up the middle and was in position to sack quarterback Ian Book — who wasn’t allowed to be tackled during the seventh spring practice of the year.

Bilal also did a nice job in coverage of tight end Cole Kmet in 11-on-11 scenarios. He broke up a pass on an out route and provided tight coverage on another incomplete pass thrown Kmet’s way.

Three days after Kmet gave Notre Dame’s defense fits in practice No. 6, the Irish kept him in check. Cornerback Houston Griffith broke up a pass thrown to Kmet near the goal line late in practice. Earlier in 1-on-1 drills, safety Jalen Elliott knocked away an underthrown pass intended for Kmet on a corner route.

Converted cornerback Avery Davis took first-team reps at nickelback on Tuesday. The Irish haven’t used the nickel package much this spring. On Saturday, the Irish used safety Jalen Elliott at nickelback and brought an extra safety on the field. If Davis wants to become a realistic option at nickelback, he’ll need to be more consistent. He had a bit of an up-and-down day in coverage.

Davis broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. in 1-on-1 drills. But he was later beat deep by receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Chris Finke. Fortunately for Davis, Finke dropped what would have been a touchdown in the scrimmage setting.

Former cornerback DJ Brown also had a tough time covering Finke from his new safety position. Finke beat Brown on a double move for a deep catch in 1-on-1. Later, Finke burnt Brown for a touchdown in 11-on-11. To be fair to Brown, there aren’t many — if any — defensive backs on Notre Dame’s roster that can cover Finke for long.

Cornerback Houston Griffith had his share of battles with wide receiver Chase Claypool on Tuesday. He kept close with Claypool to force a pair of incompletions in 1-on-1 drills. In a scrimmage setting later in practice, Griffith nearly intercepted a pass, but Claypool somehow came away with the ball.

Fellow cornerback Troy Pride Jr. had a tougher time covering Claypool. There wasn’t much Pride could do when Claypool snagged a one-handed catch on Pride. Claypool kept Pride to his side with his left arm while reaching out with his right hand to pull in the pass. Pride also committed a pass interference when trying to cover Claypool on another play.

Cornerback TaRiq Bracy came the closest to recording an interception for Notre Dame’s secondary, but he dropped a poorly thrown pass to Wilkins.

Notre Dame’s front seven kept Notre Dame’s running game bottled up for most of practice. Running back Kyren Williams was able to spring free for a long run. But the most telling part of the line play continues to be out of view from reporters. When the offensive line and defensive line square off in one-on-one pass rush drills, it happens on the opposite end of the Loftus Sports Center and the defensive linemen not participating in the drill block even a view through binoculars.

Defensive end Ovie Oghoufo, who had a few nice moments on Saturday, was in position for a sack in a scrimmage setting when he beat freshman offensive tackle Andrew Kristofic around the corner.

Notre Dame’s No. 1 defense used the following players to start the first scrimmage portion of practice: defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, nose guard Kurt Hinish, mike linebacker Asmar Bilal, buck linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, cornerbacks Houston Griffith and Troy Pride Jr., and safeties Jalen Elliott and DJ Brown.

Jack Lamb rotated with Genmark Heath at buck. The Irish also utilized a second defensive line group with Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji at the ends, Jayson Ademilola at defensive tackle and Jacob Lacey at nose guard.

The No. 2 defense also used those players at times. It also consisted of Justin Ademilola and Jamir Jones at defensive end, Bo Bauer/Jonathan Jones at mike linebacker, buck linebacker Shayne Simon, rover Paul Moala, cornerbacks Avery Davis and Tariq Bracy and safeties Derrik Allen and Patrick Pelini.

Seven defensive players sat out practice with injuries: Cornerback Donte Vaughn, defensive tackles Jamion Franklin and Hunter Spears, linebackers Drew White and Jack Kiser, cornerback Shaun Crawford and safety Christopher Schilling. Safety Alohi Gilman participated in a few drills but continued to be limited for most of practice.

Wake Forest’s Kendall Hinton (2) gets brought down by Notre Dame’s Asmar Bilal (22) and Bo Bauer (52) during the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC.